[Transcript of interview with Virginia Gleason, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]

Recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read.  Name of the presenter today is Virginia Gleason and today’s date is 3/10/2010. 

Virginia, what do you remember about this time?

One of the things that influenced my life a great deal, and I can’t forget it, is the discrimination I faced in trying to get a job, in the early 1950s, especially after I got married.  Women really did have a tough time.  I, uh, got married in 1949 in December and went to work as a school librarian in Wisconsin.  Superior, Wisconsin.  They didn’t tell me when they, I signed the contract that married women didn’t work in school libraries in that city.  They called me in the day after I got back from my wedding in December and told me that my job was over, the contract was not good, but they would let me work the rest of the year because librarians were very scarce then.  They had had a big search to try to find me, and they seemed so happy to get me, but they had to let me go.  So then, my husband and I decided that uh, we wouldn’t stay there.  After all, I’d had a great deal of training to be a librarian and I even had a, uh, degree from Columbia University with honors as a librarian, and a master’s degree from Northwestern.  But I wasn’t qualified because I was married.  So we moved, we didn’t really plan to move, but the Navy called him to World War, Korean War and uh, so we were shipped out to San Diego, California.  Well, San Diego welcomed me as a librarian at first, but they told me when they hired me that married women who, or any women, who got pregnant could not work in their library and if I got pregnant it would be, I would have retire and lose all my benefits, lose everything after three months.  But I wanted a child, so we did have a child.  And then when the war was over we moved to Superior, Wisconsin for my husband’s job, which was teaching at the college there, and I found a job as a school librarian.  Well, I’d already done that, hadn’t I? [laughs]

[laughter] That’s OK.

So then we moved to Springfield, Missouri.  And in Springfield, I, I had already worked in the Columbia University library, the Northwestern University library, the University of Iowa library, and I applied at the SMS library.  Well, they did not take applications from the wives of any teacher or anyone who was working at the college there.  So that job certainly was not available to me.  But, I was very fortunate.  Vivian Maddox was the librarian at the Springfield City Library and she called me one day.  She’d heard there was a children’s librarian in town and asked if I would like to apply for the job.  So I did, and she hired me and I worked there in that library, the old library on Central Street, for 41 years.  And many of those years, most of those years, were pretty happy years.  There were problems occasionally like they have everywhere but I didn’t even want to quit after 41 years. 

But, I have always admired Vivian Maddox.  She was the third librarian that I know of in the system.  Uh, first there was Miss Horine.  She must have been there 30 or 40 years.  And then Mildred Wilson.  And then Vivian Maddox came and she was here only a few years but she was almost chased out of town.  Uh, what she did, I think, was very good for the library but some of the citizens didn’t agree.  And what she did was understand law, she was a very smart woman, and she stood up for what she thought was right.  Now the city fathers felt, at that time, that they should have control over the city library budget but Vivian Maddox pointed out to them that the way the law was written in Missouri, is not like it is in some states, we’re not dedicated a budget by the city fathers we have a defined amount of taxes collected specifically for the library.  Now that made a world of difference then, but especially right now in the days when budgets are so tight that if we didn’t have that rule our city fathers might want to take some of that library money and use it for the firemen and policemens’ pension.   But it’s definitely headed for the library and that’s a legality.  And that made her pretty unpopular with the fathers. 

Another thing that made her unpopular was she tried to unite the Greene County library and the city library into one library.  Greene County had a nice big building over near Cox hospital that had a library and a bookmobile and a librarian and the city library was located on Central Street and I don’t know that it had a bookmobile but anyway the libraries were very close together and they duplicated services, administrative services, cataloging services, and it only made sense that it should be united in the mind of Vivian Maddox but not in the minds of many people.  I remember some people wrote letters to the editor.  One was Virginia Craig who uh has a building named for her on the campus that she loves the Springfield-Greene County, the Springfield library and she didn’t want that changed.  Now the problem was they were thinking about calling it the Greene County library.  But when Vivian Maddox left, sort of under fire because they made it very uncomfortable for her, even the newspaper had a cartoon about her with a nose like Pinocchio, it made it very rough for her so she left to better things.  She became the system librarian at Milwaukee public library.  And I don’t know where else she went but she probably maybe even became a head librarian of a big city somewhere. 

But anyway, the next librarian that came was Leroy Fox and he was a young man and he made friends with the man who was head of the Greene County library.  And the two of them agreed that that would make a wise move to unite the two.  And what they did without telling any citizens except we down at the library, they mixed up the collection.  They got them so totally mixed up send bookmobile could come to the Greene County library or the Springfield library, get what they needed, and there was no way to separate the collections after they worked on it for a little while.  And so there was nothing for the board to do but make it official.  So Leroy Fox had only a few years here and then we got a man from Kansas City Public Library named Everett Sanders, and Everett Sanders was good for cooperation.  He got the library to work on a project with the state library to have the cataloging done for the whole state.  So cooperation was the word back then and the city people never objected.  There were never any objections to Leroy Fox.  And they did decide to call it the Springfield-Greene County Library; that made them happier.  And then after Everett Sanders came Jewel Smith, and Jewel Smith was here when we built the Brentwood Library.  The Brentwood library has been a very, very popular one.  And since then we’ve had Annie Busch and Regina Cooper.  But I retired when Annie Busch was the head librarian. 

Um, one of the things that I found interesting was how I became a children’s librarian.  I started out, I studied to be a university librarian but I really couldn’t work that out here so Vivian hired me as a children’s librarian.  I’d also been hired as a children’s librarian in San Diego public library, the one that didn’t want me to be pregnant. And they, I told them I didn’t know anything about children’s work but they told me they would teach me so the first thing that they did was find, this was 1953, find some books that they had on the shelf that they wanted me to read and these were books that were very important in the day and they were by a woman, uh, named Laura.  And throughout the book I kept reading it and she was talking about Laura and it turned out that these were the new books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and they were really uh, wonderful, wonderful books. 

Now there’s a lot more to being a children’s librarian than reading Laura Ingalls Wilder but that was the first part of my training and so when I moved to Springfield I was really excited to know that Laura lived not too far from Springfield, Missouri and I could hardly wait to see her.  Well, book week came along, and for children’s book week we had a project in the children’s room to sign a scroll for Laura’s ninetieth birthday.  I went to every school and talked to the kids in the 5th and 6th grade about Laura and uh, told them we had a scroll that I had made, that they could come to the library and sign messages to Laura, anything they wanted to say but it was for her birthday.  And the children really did come in, lots of children came in, and one young man who still lives in Springfield, came in and he wrote to Laura, “I would rather read your books than eat.”  He turned out to be a musician.  But, uh, the time came to deliver the book, the scroll, and Laura was in St. John’s hospital and she was, uh, apparently sick, of course, and uh, my assistant and I had a date to present the scroll to her at, on Sunday morning, that’s when the nurse said would be the best time.  So we went to keep our date and there was a very loud voice in the room with Laura and that voice called out that nobody was allowed in here, she was very coarse and very crude and loud and I was uh, always sorry that I didn’t ignore her and just walk in anyway, but I did look in the door and I saw that it was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder who was trying to protect her mother so I left the scroll with the nurse and we went home.  And I never did get to see Laura.  If I had gotten to see Laura I could have told several generations of children “I have seen Laura”.  That was, uh, that was, uh, too bad, but years later, 10 or 15 years later, we were having a children’s program at the library on Kearney Street and the curator of the Laura Ingalls Wilder home was the speaker for a large crowd of people and she said we have found a scroll down in the uh, museum that we just don’t know where that came from.  So I was very pleased to be able to tell her the origin of it.

Then another year we had a whole summer program about Laura Ingalls Wilder and we were able to borrow, not from the museum they wouldn’t let us borrow stuff out of the museum, but they found there in Mansfield somewhere Laura’s, some of Laura’s clothing, hats, writing paper.  And we had a wonderful display about Laura for the summer reading program. 

That’s wonderful.  What great stories.  Thank you so much for being here to record today. 

You’re welcome.

Recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District’s 2010 Big Read.  For more information contact the library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web at thelibrary.org.   

[Transcript of interview with Virginia Gleason, recorded as part of the Springfield-Greene County Library District's 2010 Big Read. For more information contact the Library at 417-883-5366 or visit us on the web.]